As a parent of two young children, the Canadian animated series Paw Patrol has been an unavoidable juggernaut in my household. After years of watching the show on repeat and stepping on toy figurines left on the carpet, enduring a feature-length film was not high on my 2021 bingo card.
Thankfully, Cal Brunker’s Paw Patrol: The Movie did not make me question my life choices like other animated films geared towards my kids have. In fact, it was far better than I expected. Brunker’s film captures the magic of the show without feeling like an overly long episode.
For the uninitiated, the Paw Patrol are an elite search and rescue team of puppies, led by a young boy named Ryder (Will Brisbin), who keep the inhabitants of the sleepy little town of Adventure Bay safe. As a truck driver (Tyler Perry) transferring maple syrup, the only Canadian reference in the film, finds out after an accident leaves his rig hanging from a bridge, the Paw Patrol is the only game in town. They are the police, fire department, construction crew, air support, etc. all rolled into one high-tech entity.
It is never made clear how a young boy and his group of talking puppies can afford the tricked-out vehicles they operate. (Many of which have voice activation enhancements that would make Inspector Gadget feel inadequate.) What’s even more puzzling is where the team’s jurisdiction begins and ends.
When their mortal enemy Mayor Humdinger (Ron Pardo) wins an election, which he has rigged to be the only nominee, and becomes mayor of nearby Adventure City, an environmentally conscious puppy named Liberty (Marsai Martin) calls on the Paw Patrol for help. Claiming that he will revitalize the city, the cat-loving Humdinger’s real intentions are to use his time in office to celebrate himself and secretly remove all the dogs in the city. Humdinger’s vanity reaches dangerous levels when he gets his hands on a scientific weather machine that can remove the rain clouds that threaten to dampen his planned fireworks spectacle.
While Humdinger’s arrogance will no doubt lead to a series of catastrophic events, Ryder and the pups move to the big city before any real danger occurs. At that point, Humdinger has only banned dogs from entering his victory rally. Furthermore, the team set up shop in an elaborate Avengers-style skyscraper, which comes complete with new vehicles and a giant retractable ramp that blocks traffic. Somehow, no one in the city seems to have issue with this.
If Adventure City had its own fire and police departments before, they are clearly out of work now.
Not everyone is happy with their new life in the Adventure City though. Chase (Iain Armitage), the police dog of the Paw Patrol team, is immediately reminded of the past trauma he incurred years earlier. Abandoned by his previous owners, the pup endured a tough life on the streets before he was eventually adopted by Ryder. Crippled by panic attacks on the job, Chase must confront his demons if the Paw Patrol have any hope of stopping Mayor Humdinger.
Paw Patrol: The Movie uses Chase’s self-confidence issue to convey a family-friendly message about teamwork and believing in one’s abilities. While the film’s lighthearted approach will delight the younger audience for which it is intended, there is enough to keep adults engaged too. Brunker sprinkles in gags about dangers of unqualified elected officials who worry more about their image than climate change, the annoyance of city traffic and more jokes with which older audiences will identify.
Although there are times when the boxes of fan service are checked off a little too much–the addition of Liberty feels especially designed to sell more product–Paw Patrol benefits from a welcome animation upgrade. The crisp visuals give the action sequences more depth than the franchise’s previous incarnation.
Featuring supporting voice work from the likes of Yara Shahidi, Randall Park, Dax Shepard, Jimmy Kimmel and Kim Kardashian, Paw Patrol: The Movie is a film that will delight younger viewers while offering a few laughs for parents as well.